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Forward Adreian Payne picked up the game late in eighth grade, then blossomed under Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.

Brad Horrigan, McClatchy-Tribune

Wolves draft prospect: Adreian Payne

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA
  • Star Tribune
  • June 25, 2014 - 8:26 AM

Amid the swirl of endless Kevin Love trade rumors, you might have forgotten something: There’s an NBA draft to be held Thursday night, live from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.The Timberwolves, barring a trade that deems otherwise, will select 13th overall in a draft that — rightly or not, we won’t immediately know — has been proclaimed as the deepest in years.

It’s a night that could proceed unexpectedly because of Kansas center and potential top pick Joel Embiid’s broken foot and European prospect Dario Saric’s decision to stay over there for at least the next two years.Wolves President of Basketball Operations and coach Flip Saunders suggests his team needs to be particularly nimble this year, probably both of the unknown and potential Love trade talks.

Depending how the evening unfolds, here’s three potential players — two of whom Saunders knows well because of his Big Ten allegiances and friendship with Michigan State coach Tom Izzo — who could wear a Timberwolves cap Thursday.

Adreian Payne

In addition to being a next-generation Kevin Love of sorts, Michigan State senior forward Adreian Payne is a leaping, jump-shooting contradiction as well.

He is a prospect both relatively young to the game and yet old among his draft peers. He’s also a paradoxical talent whom Spartans coach Tom Izzo calls a “freak of nature” and “almost a little guy in a big guy’s body.”

At age 23, he is as more than four years older than other players eligible for Thursday’s draft, but his future also still intrigues scouts because he didn’t start playing the sport until he was in eighth grade. He occasionally looked, during his first two collegiate seasons, like he had never played at all.

“I wasn’t good, I wasn’t that good when I first started, I know that,” Payne says now. “It took a lot of time.”

Now he is a different player and person, transformed in his game by what he calls Izzo’s “polishing” these past four years and in his heart by a two-year friendship he struck with Spartans fan and cancer patient Lacey Hollingsworth. She died in April at age 8 after Payne carried her in his arms at Michigan State’s senior night and watched her cut down the net at March’s Big Ten tournament.

“That changed me a lot,” Payne said.

An above-the-rim leaper with a massive 7-4 wingspan, Payne considers himself all grown up in two ways.

He compares himself in some respects to Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka, as a power forward with an interior-defense mentality and offensive-perimeter skills that makes Payne one of the draft’s few real “stretch” power forwards.

“He really does defy what most people would stereotype big guys as,” Izzo told Michigan State’s website last season.

Payne, with help from Izzo, has made himself into a deft three-point shooter and possible lottery pick. He did the latter with a 41-point NCAA tournament game in March while he unknowingly finished the season fatigued by mononucleosis.

“I’m diverse, I can do a lot of things,” Payne said. “I’m more mature, I can handle myself, but I feel I have a lot of room to go. I haven’t been playing the game that long. I don’t know everything about the game. Look at me now: I became a great player. Just imagine what I can do if I have more time?”

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